What is maximal extractable value (MEV)?

Maximal extractable value (MEV) is a concept that has gained significant attention in the world of blockchain and decentralized finance (DeFi) in recent times.

It refers to the maximum amount of value that can be extracted from a given DeFi protocol or smart contract by a user or group of users. MEV has become a crucial factor in determining the profitability of DeFi strategies and has led to the emergence of new tools and techniques for maximizing returns.

In this article, we will explore the concept of MEV in detail and its implications for the DeFi ecosystem.

The role of MEV in the cryptocurrency ecosystem

MEV plays a critical role in the cryptocurrency ecosystem, particularly in the context of Ethereum.

MEV denotes the additional value that blockchain validators — those creating new blocks on the network — can acquire by manipulating the order of transactions within the blocks they create. This manipulation, often referred to as “front-running,” can provide miners with an extra source of profit beyond the standard block rewards and gas fees they collect for their work. Often miners are reordering the transactions on behalf of a third party and are typically “bribed” with a large amount of the revenue for doing so.

MEV is a byproduct of the decentralized nature of blockchain technology. In traditional financial markets, transaction orders are strictly enforced to prevent front-running. However, in the decentralized world of cryptocurrencies, miners are free to sequence transactions as they see fit. This freedom, while integral to the blockchain’s decentralized ethos, can lead to situations where miners prioritize transactions that offer them the most MEV, potentially at the expense of other network participants.

When the stakes are high enough, MEV can even incentivize miners to create blockchain forks, potentially disrupting future transactions and compromising the security of the consensus layer.

Common MEV strategies

One common scenario where MEV comes into play is in the context of decentralized exchanges (DEXs). Arbitrage opportunities, where a trader profits from price discrepancies between different markets, are built into the design of DEXs. Miners, aware of these opportunities, can sequence their blocks in such a way as to exploit these arbitrage opportunities before other traders, effectively “front-running” them.

Another common extraction technique is back-running, which occurs when a miner places a sell order after noticing a large buy order. This technique allows the miner to sell into the buying pressure, thereby increasing their profits.

Sandwich deals are yet another technique where miners place a sell order right after a transaction that affects the market price and a buy order right before it. This ensures that the miner benefits from price fluctuations caused by their own transactions.

Miners also employ various tools to aid in MEV extraction. Flash loans, for instance, allow miners to borrow, use, and repay funds within the same transaction. This enables them to execute profitable trades without requiring upfront capital.

Jaredfromsubway.eth is the name associated with one of the most well-known MEV bots in the Ethereum space. This bot has made millions of dollars in just a few months by performing common MEV strategies.

Strategies for mitigating MEV exploitation in cryptocurrency

As the cryptocurrency landscape continues to evolve, so too do the strategies for mitigating the impact of Maximal Extractable Value (MEV) exploitation.

One effective approach involves the use of fair sequencing services (FSS). FSS is a decentralized transaction ordering service that aims to ensure fairness and predictability in the ranking of transactions, thereby reducing the opportunities for MEV. By applying FSS to Layer 2 rollups like Arbitrum, the smart contract economy can scale, minimizing the negative consequences of MEV.

Another strategy involves the use of off-chain transactions and batching. When decentralized application users sign transactions and submit the trade off-chain with order preferences, all transactions can be settled in a single batch. This practice renders the reorganization of transactions unimportant as all deals have the same price regardless of the order, making replication more difficult. This increases the complexity for miners or validators attempting to extract MEV, thereby protecting users from the ‘invisible tax.’

Protocols are also being developed that allow users to have more control over their transactions. For instance, users can specify the maximum slippage they are willing to accept in a transaction. This limits the potential for miners to exploit price differences between the time a transaction is submitted and when it is executed, thus mitigating the impact of MEV.

While these mitigation strategies show promise, it’s important to note that completely eliminating MEV in a decentralized system is a complex challenge. Nevertheless, by understanding and implementing these strategies, users can better protect themselves from MEV exploitation and contribute to a more equitable and efficient cryptocurrency ecosystem.

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